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Lasting Effects Linked To Flame Retardant Exposure

Flame retardant materials.
Flame retardant materials.

Even years after being exposed in utero to flame retardants, University of Cincinnati researchers say children can continue to display behavior problems because of the lasting effect on a child's cognitive and behavioral development. Scientists say prenatal exposure to flame retardants is toxic to the developing nervous system.

The study, published this week in Environmental Research, looked at levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and PFASs present in mothers during pregnancy and conducted assessments in their children at ages 5 and 8 using parent-reported questionnaires.

These products could contain fire retardant chemicals:

  • Couch and upholstery foam
  • Carpet padding
  • Electronics
  • Some textiles
  • Water and stain repellents
  • Fast-food wraps
  • Cleaning products
  • Firefighting foams
  • Non-stick cookware

There are a number of ways flame retardant chemicals can work their way into a mother's blood which in turn can affect babies in the womb. PBDEs can be ingested via dust and diet. The chemicals then accumulate in fats.

“The findings suggest that maternal serum concentrations of PBDEs and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), one of the most commonly found PFASs in human blood, may be associated with poorer executive functioning in school-age children,” according to Ann Vuong, DrPH, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Environmental Health.

More than 200 mother-child pairs enrolled in the Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment (HOME) Study. The research followed participants from approximately 16 weeks gestation to eight years of age, examining cognition, learning and memory, motor skills, attention, and behavior.

Grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the US Environmental Protection Agency supported the study.

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